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New Series no.17/18 July - September 2000

Stability Pact or Status Quo?
by Janusz Bugajsk

European and American efforts at Balkan stabilization and reconstruction are based on three fundamental premises. First, that such a regional initiative can be accomplished because Serbian democratization is imminent. Second, that Balkan security must include the preservation of Yugoslavia as a single state. And third, that the `Stability Pact' for South East Europe will help to rescue the region from conflict and chaos. Unfortunately, all three premises are flawed and operating on their assumptions will undermine the objectives the West is trying to achieve.

First, regarding democratization, Serbia has no critical mass of support for ousting the ruling clique. Milosevic has adroitly and consistently outmaneuvered the political opposition whose leaders are widely perceived as corrupt, incompetent, or treacherous. Serbs have been shielded from reality for over a decade and evidently prefer to live in delusions even as their country is internationally isolated and sliding into the economic abyss. Much of the populace still views Milosevic as a hero protecting the victimized nation against alleged foreign subversion. The Croatian model of transformation cannot be applied to Serbia. The country is more likely to undergo violent turmoil than a peaceful revolution. Violence is rampant and repression is accelerating in Serbia. The `war at the top' in Belgrade has become a struggle for survival among a small clique of war criminals and profiteers who would murder their temporary allies in order to remain in power, to keep their stolen riches, and to stay out of the Hague Tribunal. In such conditions, general elections will not be held unless Milosevic can assure himself of victory.

Viable States

Secondly, Balkan stability and Yugoslavia's existence remain in direct contradiction. With prospects for democracy and a multi-ethnic civic society in Serbia looking exceedingly dim, containment, neglect, or wishful thinking are not viable solutions. Instead, the international focus should be on dismembering Yugoslavia into three more viable states. For security and stability to have any meaning, independence and statehood for Serbia, Kosova, and Montenegro should be supported, together with a far-reaching decentralization of Serbia. Long-term security and reconstruction in the Balkans will require shorter-term instability, bold decisions, and even military force by the international `community.'

Thirdly, the South East European Stability Pact is neither a modern Marshall Plan nor a viable long-term rescue package for the region. In reality, it is not a pact at all but a general political agreement between the West European governments. It was not forged with the participation of Balkan leaders but by Brussels bureaucrats under the chairmanship of the German official Bodo Hombach who has precious little experience in a diverse and complex region.

The Stability Pact possesses no resources of its own. The recent EU pledging meeting, in which $2.4 billion was loudly allocated for the Balkans, is primarily a means for recycling `old money' that had already been earmarked for the region. It remains to be seen how much of this sum will actually trickle down to those in need and what amount will be absorbed by the EU bureaucracy and its various agencies.

To its credit, the Pact can serve as a clearing house to promote cross-border cooperation in such worthy projects as road construction, telecommunications, and energy supplies. But the donors must beware of several imminent pitfalls, such as contracting foreign or indigenous companies in the region that waste resources, are riddled with corruption, and do not deliver on agreements. For example, in Albania there are serious concerns that Greek corporations will obtain the bulk of the funds to develop the country's road system. However, most of this money may not benefit Albania but could end up in the bank accounts of Greek owners and corrupt Albanian officials. Such scenarios can be replicated throughout the region. Simply pouring resources into countries without credible and accountable public institutions and transparent private enterprises is more likely to increase criminality and corruption than to foster stability and economic development.

Road Map for Integration

Ultimately, the most important assistance that the EU can render South East Europe is a road map for the economic and political integration of the most successful states. This will also provide an incentive for the more backward economies to create the institutions and procedures necessary for future EU inclusion. In this vein, the major impulse for integration is through the Stabilization and Association Agreements that the EU is currently negotiating with all states in the region except Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosova. Each country will need to establish joint action plans with the EU to determine a set of clear guidelines as to what reforms will need to be implemented over the coming years.

The EU itself must monitor the progress of each government and delay the integration process if conditions are not met. However, the most important initial steps have to be taken by the Union by opening up its markets to industrial and agricultural products from the region. This will provide the main stimulant to trade, production, and internal reform. The extent of open European markets will underscore the sincerity of Brussels in reconstructing and stabilizing the Balkans. The purpose of the Stability Pact should not be to stabilize the status quo. Political reform and economic restructuring is by its very nature destabilizing. To be effective, concerted international involvement must aim to shake up the countries' leadership, to rejuvenate its institutions, and to stimulate economic growth. Otherwise, the resources allocated will simply benefit corrupt political and business interests with shady international connections.

There is a danger that the West Europeans will become smug and satisfied in the existence of the Stability Pact, by urging caution, restraint, and patience in the political and security dimensions. This will simply provide comfort to politicians in the Balkans who view the Pact principally as a personal Eldorado, and it will be interpreted as weakness by ruthless leaders like Milosevic. Unless the Allies are willing to handle the main threats to security in South East Europe, the Stability Pact will principally become another footnote in diplomatic history.

This article appeared in Nacional (Zagreb), 21 April 2000
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